Events Calendar

06 May
Humanities Center Summer Seminar with Sharon Marcus
Event Type

Lectures, Symposia, Etc., Readings, Virtual

Topic

Humanities

Target Audience

Undergraduate Students, Alumni, Graduate Students, Residents & Fellows

Website

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/summer-s...

University Unit
Humanities Center
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Humanities Center Summer Seminar with Sharon Marcus

This is a past event.

Sharon Marcus, Columbia University

2022 Mellon Seminar: “Reading My Year of Rest and Relaxation”

Grief, numbness, torpor, temporal dislocation, intensified vulnerability, anxiety, irritation, denial, experienced through the prism of inequality: all of these have characterized the last two years of life in a global pandemic. These are also the subjects of Ottessa Moshfegh’s lauded 2018 novel, My Year of Rest and Relaxation, which tells the surprisingly gripping story of an unnamed 27-year-old white woman – college-educated, conventionally beautiful, wealthy enough to afford not to work – who uses an array of drugs, real and imaginary, to pursue the goal of spending most of an entire year asleep. Despite her relentless negativity and her contempt for self-help bromides, the protagonist explicitly aims to be transformed: “I’d be renewed, reborn.” Our weeklong seminar will explore what she attempts to shed and what, if anything, changes for the character after her year spent avoiding all change. In its uncanny anticipation of life under COVID, My Year of Rest and Relaxation helps us see how COVID did not simply wreak havoc with ordinary existence but also exposed many of its long-simmering discontents. In one of his last works, Roland Barthes turned to novels to think about How to Live Together. Moshfegh’s novel, like many works of millennial fiction, approaches that question by pondering how to live with our individual selves – with our pains, pleasures, needs, and anxieties. In contrast to the “cruel optimism” that Lauren Berlant identified with attachment to fantasies that disappoint and even harm, My Year of Rest and Relaxation depicts a searingly thorough attempt to detach from all sources of pleasure and disappointment. Despite its mordant bleakness, Moshfegh’s novel ultimately aligns itself with the literature of self-help, intoxication, and spiritual quest, since the protagonist seeks to make a truce with waking life and attain moderate contentment. This acclaimed novel will resonate with each of us in different ways, depending on our points of reference. We will draw on our diverse collective knowledge to assemble a set of contexts and critical frameworks for this work. I’ve recently been writing about the literature of death -- you can get a sense of that project here, an essay on Nevil Shute’s 1957 novel On The Beach. Shute departs from the canonical literature of death by depicting characters who facing imminent death, take comfort in their daily routines. Where Shute adopts a middlebrow, humanist perspective, Moshfegh aligns herself with a negative aesthetic tradition that questions the human condition itself.

Monday, May 2nd, SEMINAR 1: WORK

Tuesday, May 3rd, Seminar 2: ATTACHMENT

Wednesday, May 4th, Seminar 3: GRIEF

Thursday, May 5th, Seminar 4: UGLY FEELINGS

Friday, May 6th, Seminar 5: TIME

Friday, May 6 at 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.

Virtual Event

Humanities Center Summer Seminar with Sharon Marcus

Sharon Marcus, Columbia University

2022 Mellon Seminar: “Reading My Year of Rest and Relaxation”

Grief, numbness, torpor, temporal dislocation, intensified vulnerability, anxiety, irritation, denial, experienced through the prism of inequality: all of these have characterized the last two years of life in a global pandemic. These are also the subjects of Ottessa Moshfegh’s lauded 2018 novel, My Year of Rest and Relaxation, which tells the surprisingly gripping story of an unnamed 27-year-old white woman – college-educated, conventionally beautiful, wealthy enough to afford not to work – who uses an array of drugs, real and imaginary, to pursue the goal of spending most of an entire year asleep. Despite her relentless negativity and her contempt for self-help bromides, the protagonist explicitly aims to be transformed: “I’d be renewed, reborn.” Our weeklong seminar will explore what she attempts to shed and what, if anything, changes for the character after her year spent avoiding all change. In its uncanny anticipation of life under COVID, My Year of Rest and Relaxation helps us see how COVID did not simply wreak havoc with ordinary existence but also exposed many of its long-simmering discontents. In one of his last works, Roland Barthes turned to novels to think about How to Live Together. Moshfegh’s novel, like many works of millennial fiction, approaches that question by pondering how to live with our individual selves – with our pains, pleasures, needs, and anxieties. In contrast to the “cruel optimism” that Lauren Berlant identified with attachment to fantasies that disappoint and even harm, My Year of Rest and Relaxation depicts a searingly thorough attempt to detach from all sources of pleasure and disappointment. Despite its mordant bleakness, Moshfegh’s novel ultimately aligns itself with the literature of self-help, intoxication, and spiritual quest, since the protagonist seeks to make a truce with waking life and attain moderate contentment. This acclaimed novel will resonate with each of us in different ways, depending on our points of reference. We will draw on our diverse collective knowledge to assemble a set of contexts and critical frameworks for this work. I’ve recently been writing about the literature of death -- you can get a sense of that project here, an essay on Nevil Shute’s 1957 novel On The Beach. Shute departs from the canonical literature of death by depicting characters who facing imminent death, take comfort in their daily routines. Where Shute adopts a middlebrow, humanist perspective, Moshfegh aligns herself with a negative aesthetic tradition that questions the human condition itself.

Monday, May 2nd, SEMINAR 1: WORK

Tuesday, May 3rd, Seminar 2: ATTACHMENT

Wednesday, May 4th, Seminar 3: GRIEF

Thursday, May 5th, Seminar 4: UGLY FEELINGS

Friday, May 6th, Seminar 5: TIME

Friday, May 6 at 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.

Virtual Event

Topic

Humanities

University Unit
Humanities Center

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